Sunday, June 10, 2007

Old House Chores

For those of us living in older homes without cooling systems, this time of year brings the dreaded task of installing the window unit air conditioners. It's not one of my most favorite tasks and I don't really like having windows obstructed by them. Plus, they don't blend well with old house decor really. But then again, maybe they do in a way...

Adding to the awkwardness of the task is the fact that we have new (not better!) vinyl windows that are not as sturdy as wood windows. For example, we don't really want to drill holes in the vinyl. Nor do we want the weight of a larger a/c resting on mere vinyl.

We've also found that the companies that sell air conditioners do not really address these issues. It's pretty much up to the homeowner to figure it out. And perhaps that's why you see huge units hanging precariously overhead propped up by a few bricks or boards.

After grappling with this issue for the past few years, we have finally found a solution that is less unsightly and also very secure, which is an issue living on the first floor.

This is one of those mundane tasks that we old house people face. It's one of those things I would think of no interest, but then a commenter asked to see our system and yet again, I realize that these are the types of solutions worth sharing.

First: Steve glued up boards to make the proper thickness, 1/4" above the vinyl window frame. This piece will be on the inside window sill supporting the a/c.

Note: Air conditioners should lean outward so that any condensation drips outside and not on your inside sill.

Here are the boards for each window glued up and ready to be cut to size with the table saw.

Next we removed the window stops.

Here you see the stained ledge in place after being cut to size without the window stop.

And with the trimmed windows stops and firmly in place. As Steve said, "This ain't goin' nowhere!"

The larger air conditioner is screwed into the board making it very secure and stable. We will probably add angle irons for further security.

The a/c unit does not touch the vinyl.

As you can see it's a pretty clean look. I just dislike looking at 2x4s on my window sill or books piled up or whatever.

This is a solution we can live with and best of all, it's permanent. All we have to is pop the a/c in or out as the seasons pass. Like us, the support ledge is there to stay.

Happy Summer!


John said...

Thanks for the pictures. I'll be doing something similar this weekend with my wooden windows and now can use yours as an example. They look great. I'm sick of jimmy rigging them in each year and needing to cover the gaps.

Anonymous said...


my wife and i bit the bullet and had a high velocity system installed in our hundred year old frame house. It works like a charm and has eliminated the need for us to huddle in one room when it got too hot outside.

the company we used is called Unique. they are out of the suburbs. their installers were very professional and the whole job took a little over one week. the only downside to it is that in the closets the ducts are run exposed so i'll have to box them in with framing and drywall. otherwise absolutely no complaints.

one last thing, i do not work for unique and get nothing from plugging them. like you i just appreciate good work when i get it.

the house is looking wonderful by the way.

Patriia W. said...


This is a great post and thanks for sharing. We use a window unit in our 'sleeping room' during the hottest days but usually suffer through when we re in the rest of the house.

Our windows are wide and the little 'wings' included with the air conditioner fell about four inches short on both sides. The way I had it rigged looked awful. I'm hoping to do a better job of it this year :)

Fargo said...

Putting in the air conditioners is never one of our favorite tasks. We have reduced the need for A/C somewhat by adding solar mesh shades in our 4 big east-facing windows. Those get blasted by sun all morning, which used to make the living room and dining room really hot. Now the living room stays a lot cooler, and we've only used the A/C one day this season.

Thomas Westgard said...

Funny, I just did a similar carpentry project. When I took the A/C out of the box, I briefly considered making a movie of my efforts to follow the directions. I wish I had. It started out with me checking to see if all the parts described in the instructions were present, which they weren't. Then the list of required tools was inadequate. Then I had to add materials not in the instructions. Then it turned out to be a good thing that I have a pretty complete set of power tools, a full case of fasteners, and a small stockpile of lumber. Had I followed the directions, the result would have been a threat to physical safety.

One adjustment I had to make was installing plywood instead of the accordion wings. Aside from allowing in so much outdoor air, they are too easily cut, and a slender thief could actually slip through the gap. It really seems to me that the manufacturers might be better off just to acknowledge that it isn't really advisable for the average person to try to install them. I wonder how many of those bricks fall on people every year, or, for that matter, the whole A/C unit.

The North Coast said...

I wish my male friend had seen these pictures before he first installed my window unit, bless his heart. He didn't mean to stress the glass in the double-pane vinyl windows and cause it to crack when he put reinforcing screws in the frame of the window to lock it place on top of the air conditioner.

According to the conservation experts, individual air conditioners are better than central air, presumably because you are cooling only the space you are in instead of the entire dwelling. However, this sounds wrong to me- seems better to have central if it will fit into your home, and close off all unused rooms. I will just take the expert's word for it even if it seems counter-intuitive to me. I have always heard that central air is much more efficient, on a per BTU basis, than window units, and my mother's electric bill seems to prove this out, when compared to mine, even when allowing for the difference in rates between AmeronUE-St. Louis, and Exelon.

My one unit is sitting on the bedroom floor, awaiting installation. I use it only on the hottest nights to help me sleep, and swelter the rest of the time.

Jocelyn said...

I honestly think there is a market for some kind of a/c installation kit. The one I found on the market called AC Safe stinks and is no good with vinyl windows.

If only I were an inventor... said...

Great job you did. Our house reaches about 85*F during the day when we are gone and the windows are all shut. Im tempted to get a window A/C but dread the increase in electric bills. Have you checked your bill? What is the difference? Not much? or substantial? Luckily we have a huge pine tree shading our house from the afternoon sun so when we get home from work, we pop open the windows and the house cools down to 76*F in 10 minutes. Not bad. Let us know about your electric bill in a future post! Thanks!

Olivier Suc said...

Jocelyn, Steve-
I am in the process of changing my old wood windows to vinyl windows for energy efficiency in the winter time, but as stated in your blog, it will be soon dreaded time to re-install the A/C units at the windows. While I understand making a higher sill for the windows to support the A/C unit, I am not sure how you address securing the window to the top of the A/C unit. Usually in a wood window they recommend screwing a little metal angle to the wood frame and it physically keeps the windows shut at the A/C unit level and prevent the unit from tipping over...

Jocelyn said...

This is a late reply, but our bill is not bad. The highest it's been is $70.00. Honestly, I am wondering if somehow that outlet is hooked up to a different panel. We still have one panel not hooked up yet by Comed and so we are not being billed for that. Crazy.

Keep in mind, we run it on a limited basis and only cool areas we are in. For example, we cool the bedroom when we sleep and the main living areas when needed. We don't run it all the time. As soon as it cools off, we turn the a/c off.